(CNN) - As Mitt Romney returns to Iowa, the question of whether he'll pick up the pace on the campaign trail in the state that kicks off the presidential primary and caucus calendar remains unanswered.
The former Massachusetts governor, who's making his second bid for the Republican presidential nomination, has two scheduled events in the Hawkeye State on Monday: He tours a manufacturing plant in Dubuque and a water company in Davenport.
The brief swing through eastern Iowa comes just two weeks after Romney greeted voters in the western part of the state. But overall, Romney spent only five days campaigning in Iowa this year, which pales with the number of stops he's made in the first in the nation primary state of New Hampshire, which votes second after the Iowa caucuses.
"Governor Romney will be in Iowa enough to show he's the best candidate to beat President Obama on jobs and the economy," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul told CNN. "We've been here before and we've always said we would be back. We want to win wherever Governor Romney's name is on the ballot."
The candidate himself says the same thing. Asked by voters recently in Sioux City if he intends to pick up the pace, Romney said "I will be here again and again, campaigning here. I want to get the support of the good people in Iowa. I'd love to win in Iowa. Any of us would. And so I'll campaign here. I intend to campaign in, well, in all the early states at least, and maybe all the states at some point."
But last week Romney skipped two high-profile events in Iowa that were attended by most of the other major candidates.
Four years ago Romney went big in Iowa, spending a lot of time and money there. But the strategy backfired when one-time longshot Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, won the January 2008 caucuses.
Wounded in Iowa, Romney was then defeated by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the eventual nominee, one week later in New Hampshire.
Even though he's only made cameo appearances so far in Iowa, Romney is tied with businessman and former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain for the top spot in the two most recent polls of Hawkeye State Republicans. Romey was at 24% in a CNN/Time/ORC International poll conducted in late October, holding a 3-point margin over Cain, and he was at 23% in a Des Moines Register survey also conducted late last month, with Cain at 22%.
Some strategists say Romney doesn't need to win Iowa, considering that he's been the overwhelming front-runner in New Hampshire in just about every poll conducted over the past year. And some in Iowa agree.
"I don't think he has to win here. A second, third place, I think, would be fine for him. He does have a solid infrastructure here in people that support him," said Becky Beach, an Iowa GOP activist who's undecided on CNN's "John King, USA" last week.
But someone who knows the Romney campaign quite well says Romney's problem is not just tactical but is strategic, and the former Massachusetts governor shouldn't make strategic decisions based on tactical considerations.
"His campaign to date has the passion of a grocery list," said GOP stategist and CNN contributor Alex Castellanos, who was a top media adviser in Romney's 2008 bid but is not taking sides this cycle. "Before he decides whether or not to go into Iowa, he needs to turn his campaign into something bigger: a cause."
"If he goes into Iowa as the establishment candidate with no more than a list of bullet points for the economy, he will rally more support against than for him, and he will lose the state and the nomination," adds Castellanos, who was also a top media adviser to the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. "Romney's campaign caught fire four years ago when he turned it into a crusade to "change Washington". "If he can do that again, he should go into Iowa, but if not, he should retreat to New Hampshire and batten down the hatches."
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